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Renewable Energy Development in Southern Africa: Scenarios, Challenges, and Opportunities

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Ethan Sulliva
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Renewable Energy Development in Southern Africa: Scenarios, Challenges, and Opportunities

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Southern Africa's Renewable Energy Scenarios

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The recent analysis conducted across twelve Southern African nations sheds light on the potential of renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar, and hydropower. Utilizing the Multi-criteria Analysis for Planning Renewable Energy (MapRE) modeling framework, the study identified promising sites for wind and solar PV development. Incorporating an array of factors like the hourly capacity factor and cost estimation for these projects, the study has determined cost-optimal electricity infrastructure investments using the GridPath power systems planning model.

Furthermore, the study also screened existing and planned hydropower projects based on various environmental and social scenarios. It also estimated energy availability for each hydropower project using a hydrological model. The GridPath-SAPP model was leveraged to optimize investments in new system infrastructure to meet the hourly electricity demand of each SAPP member country.

Addressing the Energy Gap with Renewable Energy

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The beginning of 2024 marks a significant turning point for Africa's renewable energy rollout. With the potential of wind and solar energy to bridge the continent's energy access gap, the focus is now on accelerating the scale of renewables. Solar energy, in particular, has a key role in ensuring more reliable access, considering Africa's excellent conditions for solar generation.

Despite the progress, several challenges such as high inflation and revenue collection difficulties for operators persist. Moreover, electricity grids in many African countries struggle to absorb the power supplied by renewables, underlining the importance of upgrading grid infrastructure. Energy storage projects are increasingly becoming prominent as a solution to the intermittency of wind and solar power.

Exploring Renewable Energy Potential

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A closer look at Angola's energy landscape reveals ambitious targets for the future. By 2025, the government aims to achieve 8.9 GW of installed generation capacity and a 60 percent electrification rate. The plan involves the development of small-scale off-grid projects using both fossil fuels and renewable technologies, such as small hydro, solar, wind, and biomass. The country's potential for renewable energy production is immense, with studies identifying opportunities for 16.3 GW solar power, 3.9 GW wind power, and 18 GW in hydropower.

Mobilizing Investment for Renewable Energy

Private sector investment in renewable energy projects is on the rise, with countries like South Africa and Zambia turning to the private sector to supply electricity from large-scale wind and solar projects to the grid. International entities like the Climate Investment Funds (CIF) have endorsed initiatives like a $70 million plan to advance the integration and utilization of renewable energy in the Kenyan grid. This endorsement aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 32 percent by 2030 and achieve Net Zero by 2050.

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The plan also includes measures to improve dispatch, grid stability, and flexibility, and to facilitate future private sector investment in innovative storage technologies. It further aims to expand variable renewable energy, such as wind and solar, from 19 percent to 30 percent by 2030.

Promoting Productive Use of Renewable Energy

Efforts to boost local incomes and increase clean electricity use are being made through the Productive Use of Renewable Energy (PURE) concept. In collaboration with local partners, WRI Africa has integrated clean energy in the agriculture and healthcare sectors, demonstrating the economic, social, and environmental benefits of decentralized renewable energy.

Examples include retrofitting a diesel-powered generator with solar power for mango farmers in Tanzania, resulting in increased mango production and reduced operational costs for rural healthcare facilities. However, access to finance and limited capacity for running rural commercial enterprises continue to pose significant challenges for the application of PURE.

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